If it’s Friday there must be another inspiring speech from Viktor Orbán. In fact, today he overachieved and delivered two of them. First, there was the regularly scheduled Friday interview on Magyar Rádió (MR1) designed to lift the flagging enthusiasm of the pro-Fidesz forces. The second speech was delivered at the meeting of the Slovak-Hungarian Economic Forum of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The meeting was also attended by Robert Fico, who seems to be Viktor Orbán’s latest best friend.
There are days when one has the distinct feeling while reading Hungarian political news that one has just walked into a lunatic asylum. Today was one of those days. Only yesterday we learned that the Hungarian economy is definitely in recession and that several universities must close for two weeks because they don’t have enough money to pay for heating fuel. Today’s news is that Hungary’s cost to insure debt with credit-default swaps rose to the highest in five weeks. Yet, what did the Hungarian people learn this morning from their prime minister?
Orbán gave an upbeat report on Hungary’s financial health. Although until now we were told that the IMF had had enough of Orbán’s “peacock dance” and that negotiations had stopped, the prime minister asserted that Hungary is very close to signing an agreement with the IMF. And even if there is no money coming from the EU-IMF funds “Hungary can stand solidly on its own two feet.” His government managed to make Hungary one of the most successful countries in Europe.
But what is the truth? Hungary is in very bad financial shape. One hears a lot about Greece, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Spain being in recession but Hungary is right up there with them, tying with Spain at -1.6% GDP growth. On the other hand, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia are doing just splendidly given the current economic situation in Europe. Another piece of economic news today is that in September industrial gross output declined by 3.8% in volume compared to the same month in 2011.
Despite all these hard facts Orbán had the temerity to call his government’s performance outstanding. Practically the best in Europe. A country that should be imitated by others. He is handling the present financial problems differently from other heartless European countries that placed the entire financial burden that accompanies the economic crisis on “the people.” He is defending the interests of the common man and demanding that the banks and large companies assume their “fair” share of the financial hardship. Indeed, the banks have been taxed to death until by now they have ceased to be profitable. The result? Credit is hard to come by and investment has dropped to a level that hasn’t been seen in decades.
He showered praise on his own government’s performance by emphasizing the allegedly excellent grade the European Commission gave Hungary last week. Not everybody thinks that the opinion of Olli Rehn, commissioner in charge of the EU’s finances, was that unequivocally positive. The Hungarian government’s prediction of a deficit of 2.7% was adjusted by the experts in Brussels to 2.9%, and although they accepted the 2013 figures over all, the year 2014 looked less promising in their eyes. They predicted a return to a deficit that would be over 3.0%, in which case Hungary would once again be under the excessive deficit procedure. The message was, in my interpretation at least, that come December Ecofin will not change Hungary’s status as far as excessive deficit spending is concerned.
Orbán ignored all this and assured his listeners that because of the excellent report his government received from Brussels there will be no need for another austerity package. Well, that’s not an accurate translation since the word “austerity” cannot be uttered in Orbán’s Hungary. Only those horrible socialists and liberals introduced austerity packages that burdened “the people.” No, the Orbán government simply makes “adjustments.” There have been two “adjustments” since October, but there will be no third one because it is “unnecessary,” he claimed.
So, great was the surprise when a couple of hours later Orbán announced a third “austerity package” amounting to another 60 billion forints worth of “adjustments.” It is becoming evident that the government is so eager to avoid the excessive deficit procedure that it took Brussels’ criticism to heart. It no longer insists that without further changes to the budget it can hold the deficit to 2.7%. Whether that will be enough to convince Ecofin on December 4 to lift the excessive deficit procedure against Hungary remains to be seen.
During his second speech Orbán claimed that the economic problems of the European Union are so great that “fixing one or two parts of the whole system is no longer enough because the whole thing is dead … We mustn’t just fix the car, we must build an entirely new one.” Orbán used a slang word (bedöglött) for describing the state of the EU which means something like “dead as a doornail” or ” finis, kaput.”
It is surreal that the prime minister of the country says earlier in the morning that there will be no further “adjustments” while three hours later he announces exactly the opposite. But there are other signs that something is very wrong with this government. The final vote on the new electoral bill was supposed to take place on November 19 but, oops, it was discovered today that the vote must be postponed because of some parliamentary rule that had been ignored. Then Zoltán Balog, minister of national resources who is also a Calvinist minister, said that the teachers are threatening a strike because they don’t want to work. Au contraire: Hungarian teachers are miserably paid and haven’t received a raise since 2006. After he realized that he had made a very stupid mistake he apologized, but the leader of one of the teachers unions doesn’t seem to be in the mood to forgive.
Adding to the circus atmosphere in the country there is the latest joke about György Matolcsy who, while negotiating with the city fathers of the much indebted Hódmezővásárhely, said a few interesting things about the common ancestors of the Japanese and the Hungarians. According to Matolcsy, turning toward the East is something that comes naturally to Hungarians. He heard from Japanese scientists that 30% of all Japanese and Hungarian babies are born with a “small red dot on their bottoms” which after three months disappears. So, Japanese-Hungarian economic cooperation is even genetically determined.
Soon enough the country was full of people who seem to know a great deal more about those “red little dots” than Matolcsy. First they are not red, not small, and not round. Instead they are blue, can be quite large, and are of irregular shape. They are called Mongolian spots and are congenital birthmarks that usually disappear by the time children are three to five years of age. They are common among East Asians, Southeast Asians, Polynesians, Native Americans, and East Africans. But not among Hungarians.
But what can one expect from György Matolcsy, who about a year ago made the claim–referring to unnamed Persian and Byzantine sources–that our ancestors couldn’t be rivaled in gastronomy and in brain surgery? Yes, brain surgery! I’m sure there are many people in Hungary who think that a brain surgeon should be hard at work trying to straighten out those responsible for the country’s economic policy. Those of you who know Hungarian should take ten minutes and listen to Matolcsy’s speech which includes the red little dots. This man gets under my skin. His pomposity is unrivaled and it is accompanied by colossal ignorance.